Ooohh, debate… lovely. My previous post 10 challenges for hyperlocal content aggregators certainly got noticed. Thanks Duncan and Cameron for your thoughts. I’ll try to address the major issues below.

First though I should deal with the fact that I work for the online real estate social network StreetAdvisor. I’m the Community Manager, which means I develop ideas about building the audience and community, I write copy for the site and for the blog, I do online marketing and I monitor user generated content contributions to ensure they do not violate community standards (such as being discriminatory or derogatory). I’m not a founder, an owner or a business manager. I make suggestions and recommendations about how the site should function, but I don’t control it.

As an employee, I represent them when paid to do so, but not on my own time. This means that Duncan’s comments are not really relevant. I don’t represent my employer on my own time or in my own blog. I am not an entrepreneur, am not in business, and have no intention of becoming a media business owner or operator. My blog is a hobby, not a business.

I cannot compare StreetAdvisor to Norg or other sites or businesses because I work there, and I know it from the inside. My comments about Norg, Webmenus and others are from the point of view of a member of the public, the audience, the community. My perspective about StreetAdvisor is different, and a comparison is neither fair not pragmatic.

I am not going to provide an inappropriate insight into the activities of my employer (breach of confidentiality), be overly positive about them (no arse licking here) or be overly negative of them (there are easier ways of being unemployed). It’s best for me to leave them out of the debate. I’m not going to comment on the traffic issue that Cameron raises. Anyone can use or to analyse web traffic. I didn’t criticise Norg for traffic numbers as such, but more for the fact that the concept behind the site does not seem to inspire users.

Anyone who runs a site also knows that there is a significant difference between traffic (visitors to the site) and participants (signed up members of the site). The aim is to generate traffic, keep the visitors coming back, convert as many as possible to participants, and keep them coming back to contribute. In some ways the conversion ratio from visitor to member is more important than the overall traffic.

Cameron thinks I have missed the point about Norg. I don’t. We’ll have to agree to disagree. I think he missed my main point, which is doubting whether users see participating in Norg as worthwhile; whether citizen journalism is the basis for a stable business. The evidence so far seems to suggest that the answer is no. The incentives to participate are weak or absent. Anyone who wants to share their personal opinions with the world can start their own blog. Platforms that aggregate and host text based ideas do not seem to have the same utility for participants as hosting photos (Flickr) or videos (Youtube).

I don’t need to join a site to share my ideas. Unless I see real value in it, I won’t. I believe many other people think the same way. Even though I technically own the content I create in online aggregating platforms or social networks, ownership is little use unless I am able to use that content in ways that suit me.

For example, if I joined several sites and wrote news stories, restaurant reviews, music reviews and film reviews in them, and could take an RSS feed from each, I could aggregate those feeds into my blog, and put all the content I have created together, along with the content I have placed in Flickr and Youtube, because these platforms allow users to export their content easily.

The fact that Norg and many other sites do not allow users to export their content (Facebook forbids it) discourages me from contributing to them. Again, I think many people have realised this, and are acting accordingly. This is the core principle that Cameron and Duncan have seemingly misunderstood, and that Norg and others have failed to address. For more on this idea, read my original post hyperlocal startups – all take and no give.

Why should I help you build your media empire?

4 thoughts on “Why should I help you build your media empire?

  • 9 February 2008 at 6:16 pm

    Where is the incentive for people to contribute to Digg? YouTube? Flickr? Your arguments don’t hold up Brian. People (apparently not you, but other people) like to contribute. The #1 incentive to contribute to sites like NORG is to CONTRIBUTE. Human society, human culture, is based on contribution of ideas, of content, sharing our hopes, dreams and fears. Sites like NORG (and the others above I mentioned) allows us to contribute in a communal setting. Tell me – where is the incentive for people to contribute to StreetAdvisor?

  • 9 February 2008 at 6:52 pm

    AS the man behind LocalHero:
    The venture that (re)started this thread let me have my two cents.

    In most respects I agree with Brian. His criticism of my site (startups in general) were correct. His mistake was I think not cutting me any slack. My site is mostly experimental and I am building it in my spare time. It is not a business. Not yet anyway.

    It is however a pretty good search engine for local content. When I nail all the bells and whistles I think it will genuinely be the best in the world…

    Which makes me think sites like Norg must just have good PR and little else. The top headlines pretty much are re-write from the MSM, nothing compelling and the techology is just a modified wordpress install. What gives?

  • 9 February 2008 at 7:46 pm

    Hi Brian,

    Thanks for your thoughts, I read your original post yesterday and thought it appropriate I respond to this one as you have a couple of facts wrong.

    Actually, Cameron has it spot on – we are not a aggregation site, but a publishing platform for a local community. We do not aggregate content in that we don’t automatically pull in news from somewhere – all the news placed there is done so by our Cit Js as a way of sharing stories that is of interest to them and our community.
    This is only one of our features. It’s not our big picture vision of what we’d like to see happening, but the idea of citizen journalism is still new and emerging. Ironically, the placing of links was a request from our early Cit J community on PerthNorg.

    I don’t know where you got the idea that you don’t own the content you write on the Norg – it’s yours – you retain copyright of anything you produce on the site. It is in our terms and conditions – which you can read see here –
    It was one of the fundamental distinctions I wanted to make between our site and any other news organisation – which requires that you hand over copyright to them. You should be able to pull in your own RSS shortly :) As you can appreciate this game is about constantly building on what you have created – so by no means is the site and our features finished.

    As to why people contribute? That’s been the subject of many a thesis and I can’t speak for others, but I’m happy to share my story. I’m a former print journalist, I did my time at The West Australian and then freelanced for a number of years for them and other major publications. But I became very disillusioned with what was happening in mainstream media and found myself fascinated by what was happening on the web. The internet is to news what the printing press was in the 1800s. It has brought on a new way of communication that is about conversation. Frankly, I find the writing of real people much more exciting! I also know that our Cit Js get a buzz out of contributing and having people respond to it. I’m sure you’ve heard all of this before. But I really believe it and I’m not one to pay lip-service and not do something about it. So I set about creating the Norg.

    Why not just blog then, you ask? Go for it! But not everyone wants a blog of their own and at times it can feel like you are shouting into an empty canyon. We have a number of contributors who are both bloggers and some who are entirely new to the idea of writing online. A good example is one of our Perth writers Marked – who is quicker than most media in feeding football news in to our site. He’s in a position to know about things quickly and now has a place to share them. And another thing – these need not be text – they can be videos, podcasts or photos.

    What we provide is more than a geographical context to conversations – we have a passionate audience in that location – a community. I see us as the bridge between bloggers and traditional media. I built the site to look and feel like a traditional news site in some conventions, because I want the site to have a broad appeal beyond just the early adaptors. And from most feedback we have been pretty successful in that.

    Also FYI, we have a 50/50 revenue share with bloggers (I have yet to establish blogs in Melbourne) and one day i hope to be in a position to possibly extend revenue sharing to all Cit Js, but this model is also problematic and does need careful consideration. Together we are able to pull in much higher CPM rates (currently about $40 CPM) which is much higher than any rate you’d attract on Google Adwords. Out of interest, The Huffington Post does not pay contributors and is one of the reasons Ariana Huffington believes her site has kept its integrity.

    Furthermore, we give out press passes to any Cit Js who ask for them for gigs and sporting events and this year we hope to introduce live blogging. Better still, these will be reports from fans not suited up journos who are there to do a job.

    There is so much potential here to do such great things – I really think you need to have another think about citizen journalism and what we can all achieve together.

    *And last point, whether you compare a site to is irrelevant, you should however disclose that you work for them or the very least a company that works in a similar area- instead of people having to dig around to find that fact – I’m assuming Duncan and Cameron found that on your LinkedIn. Or even a pointer that the views on the blog are your own and not that of your employer given that you are making comments in their area of business. Just a suggestion.

  • 10 February 2008 at 10:09 am

    Hi Pete,

    Good luck with – looks really interesting and like it’s pulling in info out of the mainstream.

    See my comment to Brian about how news is placed on the Norg. Also, I thought it was obvious, but any MSM links are only the beginning of the conversation – you can add comments, photos/videos to those stories – which you can’t on other news sites – and not on your terms anyway. Our community controls the input and importance of news.

    I was going to run through our technical specifications with you, but I stopped. Might I suggest we get over picking on a site’s technology – does it matter what drives the site really? If it performs the intended function, does it really matter what is making that happen?

    As for our good PR – thanks! The only advise I can give is be passionate about what you do and be supportive of others in the industry. You’ll find the web 2.0 (for lack of a better description) community in Australia very welcoming and helpful. Most of the “PR” for the Norg now comes from our Cit Js who believe in our vision and that in part indicates to me, that we must be doing something right. But, there never has been a PR budget or any money spent on promoting our site. Really, it’s just me executing a vision and really believing in it :)

    Another idea is to become involved in online communities where people get to know you and what you’re about. Best thing for me has been joining Twitter. There are heaps of web people on there and it’s been a great way for me to communicate my ideas and learn from others. If you join feel free to follow me @bronwen. There’s also Facebook (which, unfortunately is one of those things I feel I ‘have’ to belong to.)

    Also, there’s a number of Melbourne meetups/events that you might be interested in attending if you want to meet fellow Aussies working in the same area.

    I’ve made some of my best friends along the way, enjoy the ride.


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